The scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is one of the most versatile instruments for investigating the microstructure of metallic materials. This article highlights the development of SEM technology and describes the operation of basic systems in an SEM, including the electron optical column, signal detection and display equipment, and vacuum system. It discusses the preparation of samples for observation using an SEM and describes the application of SEM in fractography. If the surface remains unaffected and undamaged by events subsequent to the actual failure, it is often a simple matter to determine the failure mode by the use of an SEM. In cases where the surface is altered after the initial failure, the case may not be so straightforward. The article presents typical examples that illustrate these points. Image dependence on the microscope type and operating parameters is also discussed.